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14 Kilometers Separate Regime Forces from Abu al-Duhur

14 Kilometers Separate Regime Forces from Abu al-Duhur

Monday, 8 January, 2018 - 08:30
A picture shows the damage following an explosion at a base for Asian jihadists in a rebel-held area of the northwestern Syrian city of Idlib on Jan 7, 2018. (Photo: AFP)

Syrian regime's forces continue to advance in Idlib's southern countryside, north of Syria, where they reached the border of Aleppo's administrative district after controlling the town of Sinjar and approaching Abu al-Duhur military airport. Meanwhile, Tahrir al-Sham Front stated that regime's operation in Idlib "is no picnic".

Director of Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) Rami Abdul Rahman declared: "Regime forces took control of Sinjar and five other villages in Idlib's south-eastern countryside."

Regime forces are now 14 kilometers away from Abu al-Duhur military airport, Abdul Rahman told Agence France Presse.

A source at the Free Syrian Army told Asharq Al-Awsat that the regime adopted the policy of "scorched earth" in Idlib.

"It is advancing without any resistance as a result of the Astana agreement, which led to Turkey's commitment to the withdrawal of Tahrir al-Sham from the region," said the source, adding that it is likely Ankara won't be allowed to enter now because it will create a backlash.

SOHR pointed out that, since October 22, 2017, regime forces took control of over 95 villages in Hama and Idlib, including about 60 in Idlib alone over the past 14 days, during which more than 70,000 civilians were displaced.

Abu al-Duhur airport was the last military center of the regime forces in Idlib, and since the factions took control of it, the presence of regime forces is limited to loyal fighters in the besieged villages of al-Foua and Kefraya.

Abdul Rahman expected the battles to intensify when regime forces reach Abu al-Duhur airport, and if the regime takes control of the airport, it "will become the first military base it regains control of in Idlib."

On Sunday, at least 18 people, including civilians, were killed on Sunday in an explosion at a base in Idlib city.

Speaking to AFP, Abdul Rahman said that a large explosion on Sunday evening hit the base of the Ajnad al-Qawqaz faction in Idlib, without specifying the number of civilian casualties.

He did not specify whether a car bomb or a coalition or Russian drone caused the blast, but activists on social media said a car bomb was responsible for the explosion.

Dozens of people were wounded, particularly fighters, according to Abdul Rahman who said Ajnad al-Qawqaz base was "almost completely destroyed" and that buildings nearby were damaged.

Ajnad al-Qawqaz group includes hundreds of Caucasian fighters from central Asia and is battling alongside the Tahrir al-Sham Front against regime forces in Idlib's southern province.

In addition to Arabs, extremist groups fighting in Syria include thousands of Asians, including many from central Asian states and members of the Muslim Uighur ethnic minority of China's Xinjiang province.

Tahrir al-Sham Front controls the majority of Idlib, while the presence of other armed factions is limited to certain areas.

Tahrir al-Sham Front held an emergency meeting of its military council, chaired by its leader Abu Mohammad al-Golani, according to the group's official Telegram channel.

The front issued a statement indicating that it expected a regime campaign, especially the battles of Abu Kamal and al-Sharqiya. It warned that the operation will not be easy, but admitted that the regime forces took control of several villages.

Regime forces moved towards Idlib after the last major operation against ISIS on the border between Deir and Iraq.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) announced that fighting and airstrikes have forced more than 60,000 people to leave their homes since November 01, 2017.

UN said the civilians newly displaced by the fighting in Idlib were in a “dire” situation.

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